Becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

Last updated June 16, 2023
By Online MSW Degrees staff

Learn the different degree requirements for becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, as well as the certification and testing requirements you must have to work as a LCSW. Generally speaking, a good start for learning about education requirements for becoming a LCSW is to start with reviewing MSW programs in Clinical Social Work.

School Program Admissions
University of Kentucky Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited, 100% online. Regular and Advanced Standing MSW tracks. 7 different certificates available (Clinical, Child Welfare, School, Substance Abuse, Trauma, more).
University of Kentucky CSWE Accredited MSW Program
Syracuse University Online Master of Social Work
CSWE accredited. No GRE required. Traditional and Advanced Standing tracks.
Syracuse University CSWE Accredited MSW Program
University of Kentucky Online Master of Social Work (Clinical Social Work Certificate available)
Clinical certificate available. Gain an advanced level of clinical knowledge and skills, including application of social work practice in a variety of clinical settings.
University of Kentucky CSWE Accredited MSW Program
University of West Florida Online Master of Social Work
MSW program features clinically focused courses grounded in the study of medical and behavioral healthcare, and it provides hands-on learning through clinical field internships.
University of West Florida CSWE Accredited MSW Program
University of Texas Permian Basin Online Master of Social Work
No GRE Required, 100% online, personalized attention with our 12:1 student-faculty ratio, receive assistance with Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) exam preparation.
University of Texas Permian Basin CSWE MSW Program
i sponsored

Click to view online MSW programs that are taking applications for 2024.

What is Clinical Social Work?

Clinical Social Work is a specialized field that requires specialists to hold a minimum of a Master's degree in Social Work and state licensure prior to becoming involved. This field involves a profound knowledge of the different psychological impairments that are present within individuals, the social aspects and individual histories that can affect an individual's quality of life, the treatment techniques available for improving a person's life, and the resources available for support throughout the process.

Clinical Social Work is a Subset or Track of Social Work

Clinical Social Work is a sub-field of Social Work that is best applied to industries that involve public health and well-being. There are specific online Clinical MSW programs available. People that suffer from addiction may seek counseling from Clinical Social Workers in attempt to find treatment or relief, schools may call upon Clinical Social Workers to work with students that are experiencing difficult circumstances in their home life, and Clinical Social Workers may also work with families in a medical setting that are dealing with grief from a long-term illness or death in the family

Steps to Become a LCSW

  1. Obtain a CSWE-Accredited MSW Degree: Most students can complete the MSW in 1-3 years post-baccalaureate.
  2. Engage in Supervised Work Experience: 2 to 3 years for most states.
  3. Check Course Requirements: Some states may require additional specialized course work not included in the MSW program.
  4. Apply for and Successfully Complete Board Examinations: Typically consists of a state board exam for LCSWs and a state law examination specific to your state.
School Program Admissions
Virginia Commonwealth University Online Master's in Social Work
CSWE Accredited
University of Kentucky Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
University of West Florida Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
Syracuse University Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
University of Denver Online Master of Social Work
CSWE Accredited
i sponsored

Click to view all online MSW programs that are currently accepting applications.

Where do Clinical Social Workers Work?

  • Community Health Departments
  • Hospitals
  • Mental Health Facilities
  • Schools
  • Social Service Agencies
  • Homeless Shelters
  • Foster Care Agencies
  • Substance Abuse Facilities
  • Military Installments
  • Nursing Homes

Traits that Make a Successful LCSW

If you are wondering whether or not becoming a LCSW is right for your personality, you have come to the right place. This field is increasingly important to the betterment of society and requires strong-willed individuals to fight for the improvement of their clients. Just as any other field that is located in the public domain, some people may be a great fit for the field while others may not feel like Social Work is the best option for them.

Having the ability to empathize with clients in a professional setting is one of the most important traits found within LCSW professionals. Sometimes you may not understand exactly what a person is going through, but you are still able to understand the feelings that arise because of it. People that are seeking help and support are more likely to follow your direction if they can sense your relation to their feelings.

Dedication is another trait that is valuable when entering the field as a LCSW. Sometimes working with clients in a public setting can involve calling on many different agencies for service and support. Having to rely on other organizations can be frustrating and cost you valuable time throughout each day. Your dedication to the betterment of your client can play a role in how effective you are in pulling all of your resources together in the end.

As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, you may not know what you will walk into on any given day. Your versatility as a professional can help you react to unexpected situations with grace and provide effective resolutions for situations that arise over time. Having the ability to multi-task and manage change can go a long way in this field.

Other traits that can benefit you as a social worker are compassion – which is key to finding your desire to help others, patience – when things get out of hand, and reliability – because people may be counting on you. If you fall into these categories, then a career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker may be for you.

Licensing Requirements to Be a LCSW

A MSW through a CSWE Accredited Program

The first and most important step to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker is to obtain your MSW through a CSWE-accredited MSW program. Some colleges offer an Online MSW with a Clinical Social Work track. This licensing requirement was put into place to ensure that you have taken part in a curriculum that has been reviewed and qualified as reliable for your program. Accredited degree programs can be found all over the country and can lead you to a fruitful career in Social Work.

Supervised Social Work Experience

In addition to completing accredited degree programs, you must also be willing to take part in a 2-3 year supervised work experience. Some states list the supervision requirement by hours worked, while others may have a flat year rate. Part of the stipulations for this step includes the requirement that the supervisor of your work experience be a LCSW. During your experience, you can gain skills that are relevant to the practice of Clinical Social Work within a professional environment.

Some States May Require Additional Courses

In some states, you may find that there are additional courses that are needed in order to become licensed. These courses may or may not be included within your MSW program. It is important to review which courses your states requires for licensure prior to choosing a degree program. You can save yourself time and extra money by choosing degree programs that include all required courses for your plan.


As a final step towards licensure, you may be required to take a series of examinations prior to being officially approved. The first examination on your agenda is the licensing certification exam. This test is administered to ensure that you have gained enough knowledge during your educational programs and supervised experience to work with clients in a clinical setting. This career field is extensively applied by nature, making experience and knowledge extremely important to your success.

Most states also require that you sit for state law examinations, which are brief tests on your knowledge of state laws regarding direct patient care. This test usually consists of 50-100 questions and is standardized for all service professionals.

LCSW Licensing Requirement by State

Depending on where you reside, the requirements for licensure can have slight variations from other states. Our team wanted to provide you with a broad outlook of what to expect throughout your journey, so they have researched individual state requirements for 3 of the largest states for Clinical Social Workers. As you will see in the list below, some states can have different paths post-MSW for you to follow.

  • New York – LCSW
    Prior to engaging in supervised work experience, BSW graduates must first become licensed as Licensed Master Social Workers. This includes the completion of a MSW and certification examination. Once these credentials are gained, graduates can begin working towards their 3 years supervised work experience. The extra course work required for licensure within this state includes classes that focus specifically on child abuse and reporting practices. New York also requires students to pass a national certification exam prior to applying for licensure. View New York MSW programs online.
  • Florida – LCSW
    In the state of Florida, students are required to begin their field practice within their MSW program. This state specifies that students must have direct clinical experience with clients during supervised placement, plus engage in 2 years of supervised work experience after the completion of the MSW program. Courses that are often required in addition to the MSW include those that include the state laws and regulations regarding clinical professionals, family violence, and HIV/AIDS awareness. After all of these requirements have been completed, students can sit for a national licensing exam and apply for licensure. View online Florida MSW programs.
  • California – LCSW
    Similar to New York’s initial requirement, California residents interested in becoming licensed as Clinical Social Workers must also pre-register with the state department before earning credit towards their supervised work requirement. After being registered as an Associate Clinical Social Worker, graduates can find a position working under the supervision of a LCSW and start earning credit towards their 3,200 hour requirement. Additional course work in California includes courses that address child abuse, human sexuality, and substance abuse. Once all requirements have been met, applicants can sit for the licensing exam and apply for licensure. View California MSW programs online.